Starring Brenna Otts, Gena Shaw, Michael Vasicek, Grant Benjamin Leibowitz
Written by Drew Barnhardt
Directed by Drew Barnhardt
Screened at Fantasia 2018
What do you get when you mix sex toys, a pregnant therapist, a shotgun, some liquor and techno music? You get the film Rondo. Directed by Drew Barnhardt, Rondo snatches you at the first scene. It’s unforgiving as it constantly conjures our concern for characters, drawing us into unease as we witness death lurking for those we grow close to. Rondo is fun, flawed, and free of restraint. But ultimately, it’s up to the viewer to discover which of these f-words linger after the 90-minute run time.
We begin with moonlight focused on a blue-striped couch in Denver, Colorado. Paul (Luke Scorge), a military veteran suffering from PTSD, finds himself awake once again. He walks from the couch, to the kitchen, to the liquor, hoping for an inkling of serenity at the end of the glass. Jillian (Brenna Otts) discovers him. She had two rules when she took her brother into her home: no guns and no liquor. Disappointed, she hands him a card with the name Cassie (Gena Shaw), a therapist she recently encountered.
The following morning Paul visits the therapist. She’s different. She encourages him to continue drinking. She also prescribes more sexual activity, even offering a discreet location and the entry password…Rondo.
The password enables Paul and two strangers to enter a high rise apartment, where a man named Lurdell (Reggie DeMorton) communicates the demands of his client Mr. Tim. The demands include Mr. Tim observing his young wife sleeping with the strangers. This all seems awkward enough, but it instantly multiplies with malice and leaves Paul struggling for a way to escape. Jillian, forever the loving sister, seeks vengeance against the people that tricked her brother into this predicament.
In the film, certain scenes marry photography and music well. In one particular shot, director of photography John Bourbonais includes an important conversation in the foreground, a bodyguard scrutinizing the conversation from the mid-ground, and a malevolent woman approaching from the distant background. Here the music is low yet engaging. Conversely, other scenes present an intruding imbalance of photography and music. I enjoyed Ryan Franks’s score of the film enough to want it as an album; however, it often audibly drowned out dialogue and visually drowned out action. I found myself either struggling to hear a cop speak to Jillian or dancing too much during a foot chase.
As an overall story, Rondo will leave you considering your decisions in the characters’ positions, but there are a few details that could be improved. One example is when Paul tries to escape his pursuers. I would’ve loved to see unusual use of the apartment complex other than Paul sliding past his pursuer—or simply taking the elevator. Second, the film has standout stars with Luke Scorge, Brenna Otts, and Gena Shaw; but it occasionally suffers from over-acting that forces some threats to be unbelievable.
PTSD is often a sensitive topic when discussed in any medium; however, director Barnhardt embraces it in an adventurous way. As a former soldier, Paul suffers from PTSD. This inclines those he engages to disregard his words and thought-process. Furthermore, he has no idea what he is getting himself into with the therapist’s recommendations… but she’s a therapist… so he (as with most others) believes whatever she says will help him. This displayed how former and current soldiers can unfortunately be misguided and misused by those society trusts.
Drew Barnhardt definitely has more stories that need to see the light of day. He is unique in his thinking and crafts tension unlike most others. Furthermore, many in the main cast deserve more time in front of the camera. I want to witness the entire team push the envelope even more. At other times, they must pull back to draw us in with negative space. I’m confident that further experience will invoke proper use of both of these techniques.
Rondo is fun, flawed, and free of restraint. But ultimately, it’s up to the viewer to discover which of these f-words linger after the 90-minute run time.